Karla Williamson has fond memories of the Halloween season of her childhood.
All of the porch lights on her west side street were on and the neighbors handed out candy.
“It was fun, it was safe and it was something I really looked forward to,” said the 51-year-old Detroiter, who grew up in Crary/St. Mary’s neighborhood.
Since that time, Williamson said, Detroit’s population diminished and the sense of security among families went with it. Devil’s Night arson fires hit a peak of 800 in the mid-1980s and the city instituted the anti-arson patrol campaign “Angels’ Night,” which continued for decades.
In 2018, amid a marked decline in arson fires, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan launched “Halloween in the D” to return the focus of the holiday to Detroit’s children.
Williamson, the District 1 manager for the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, is among those working to bring options and the joy of Halloween back to Detroit families who have opted to skip trick-or-treating in the city or to take their children to the suburbs.
“I don’t know that the world will ever go back to trick or treating like it once was,” said Williamson, also noting limitations induced by COVID-19, “but having structured activities for families, I hope all cities do that.”
On Monday, Williamson was accepting candy donations from local companies at the Brennan Pool House at Rouge Park on the city’s far west side as part of “Halloween in the D,” a host of city-sanctioned Halloween events kicking off this weekend.
As city leaders work to change the narrative around Halloween, some Detroiters who have passed on trick-or-treating in the city’s neighborhoods, say those offerings are welcome.
Dakari Washington, an east side resident and father of three, said this year he will consider joining citywide events.
“Going to police stations and rec centers is something I’ll think about more this year, just to do something different and still safe with (my daughter),” Washington said after morning school drop off outside Carstens Academy of Aquatic Science at Remus Robinson.
Halloween in the D events begin Saturday with Fall Fest at Pingree Park on the east side from noon to 4 p.m. Fall Fest includes hayrides, pony rides, pumpkin and face painting, ax throwing and rock climbing.
On Sunday, the city will host Scarefest in Palmer Park from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.on the northwest side, with a pumpkin carving contest, haunted hay rides, costume parade and an adult costume contest.
For Halloween itself, which falls on Monday, the city will distribute candy at trunk-or-treat events at each of Detroit’s 11 police precincts. The Detroit Fire Department is also passing out candy at seven of its fire stations – one in each of the city’s council districts. Several city recreation centers are also hosting events, including haunted houses at the Adams Butzel Complex and the Crowell and Heilmann recreation centers.
Last year, about 30,000 children visited recreation centers, police precincts and fire stations during Halloween in the D events. Rose Love, a communications manager for the city’s Media Services Department, added that the city gave out over a million pieces of candy during those events that ran for a week.
Williamson said she hopes Halloween in the D can provide Detroiters with an experience reminiscent of what she once knew.
“This is something that a family can plan for,” she said. “It’s for children, for adults, for everyone.